PSA: Stop Telling Parents to Enjoy Every Moment

I'm not afraid to admit that I am not, in fact, enjoying every moment of parenthood. This toxic positivity needs to stop because it is harmful (and annoying!).

The author and her child.
Photo: Courtesy of Christina Crawford

We've all been there: in a long line at Target, overwhelmed and swimming in small children who are sword fighting with the lane dividers and loudly expressing their displeasure about candy you won't buy them, when someone dispenses some ill-timed and unsolicited parenting advice, "Enjoy every moment!" Pardon me for not basking in this super-duper fun and ultra-enjoyable spectacle.

I have three boys, all 17 months apart. Most days I am merely trying to survive, let alone enjoy, so this phrase is like nails on a chalkboard to me. I understand it's sweet for celebrities (with their staff of nannies not pictured) and older people in the produce aisle to wax poetic about motherhood, but it's toxic and it's making the rest of us feel bad. For the love of guacamole, can we all just agree to stop saying this?!

I'm just going to be real with you here: there are many, many moments I'm outright not enjoying. Like when I thought it would be fun to take the kiddies on a nature walk. I ended up carrying a massive toddler on my back uphill for two miles in stifling heat whilst he screamed directly into my eardrums about how hot and tired he was. Then his two brothers proceeded to chime in with a cacophony of loud terrible screeching noises bemoaning about how heavy their water bottles were. This culminated in all of us sobbing.

Along with the joyous aspects of parenting, are some not so fun parts, like trying to reason with a hangry, overtired toddler who is having an embarrassing public meltdown, or trying to reason with a hangry, overtired teenager who is having an embarrassing public meltdown. We endure them, because we love our kids, and well, it has to be done. But it doesn't mean we need to enjoy every single minute of it.

I do understand the sentiment behind this phrase. Its message intended to make harried parents stop and realize how fleeting this time is and remind us to savor it. It is usually delivered by a well-meaning person who has the benefit of being very far removed from the exhaustion and day-to-day chaos parenting littles entails. The advice-givers seem to have the kind of amnesia where only the precious, adorable memories remain and the others, the unpleasant, unenjoyable ones are banished to the deepest recesses of their brain. Once time has passed, it's easy to look back with rose-colored glasses and only remember the highlights and forget the tantrums and sleepless nights.

I don't think anything in life is enjoyable all the time, so why should parenting be any different? If you start with that expectation, you are setting yourself up for failure because that's simply not realistic. Admitting parenting is challenging and not always enjoyable does not make you a bad parent, it simply means you are not a robot and have normal human emotions.

I don't think anything in life is enjoyable all the time, so why should parenting be any different? If you start with that expectation, you are setting yourself up for failure because that's simply not realistic.

"All feelings have a purpose and when we negate or downplay certain emotions, we limit our understanding and experiences. Humans are not one-dimensional and should be encouraged to feel a range of emotions. In my work with parents, acknowledging feelings, all feelings, is one of the most valuable skills I teach," says Siomara Monge, M.S., LPC-S, and registered play therapist.

We live in a culture which extolls perfection and (toxic) positivity over authenticity and vulnerability. It's exhausting, harmful, and doing no one any favors, especially a parent going through a hard time. Parenting is onerous enough and the expectation that we should enjoy every second of the stress just adds guilt to our plate. We sure don't need that kind of pressure heaped on us in addition to everything else we're shouldering.

Monge explains, "Although re-framing and focusing on the positive can be a healthy emotional coping skill, the over-application of this concept can be hurtful and isolating to us as humans. Excessive positivity can communicate unrealistic expectations and trigger perfectionistic anxiety." Instead of making parents feel shame for not loving every single second, we should be celebrating "real life" and normalizing all that parenthood entails—both the enjoyable and the, ahem, not so enjoyable (blowout diapers anyone?).

We've been conditioned to believe that we should all be naturals at motherhood, love every second, and never complain, but I've found it actually can be cathartic to vent. And please don't misinterpret my venting for being ungrateful. It doesn't mean that I view raising these tiny humans as any less than the extreme privilege that it is. It just means I'm being realistic about all that honor entails.

After several years of infertility and three of the worst pregnancies in recorded history thanks to hyperemesis gravidarum, I'm acutely aware of just how lucky I am. There are times I look at my kids in utter disbelief because I just can't believe I get to be their mom and I do try to soak it all in. And then there are times, I cry frustrated tears and try to forget as quickly as possible. The two emotions are not mutually exclusive.

I can only hope that after some time has passed, that disastrous hike and all the ill-fated grocery shopping trips will be funny, and I may even remember them fondly. The reason being, they will be squarely in the past at that point, and I will have the hindsight and perspective to perceive both the good and bad collectively. But right now, I don't. I'm staring straight down the barrel of long and hard days with little ones, so telling me to enjoy these enervating moments is harmful, even if it wasn't intended to be malicious.

If you are not enjoying every single moment, take heart. Because you shouldn't be and I'm not either. But we're still rockstar parents who love the heck out of our kids. We will enjoy what moments we can and cut ourselves some slack through the rest.

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